For the second day running,Congress president Sonia Gandhi played an active role in leading the treasury benches in the Lok Sabha today,seeming to have taken command after the exit of Pranab Mukherjee,notwithstanding the appointment of Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde as the Leader of the House.
Giving up her trademark poise and reserve,Sonia led from the front,directing ministers to intervene,signalling to her party MPs to take on the Opposition,and even sending for some members to issue instructions.
When SP member Shailendra Kumar raised the issue of reservations for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in promotions in government jobs before Question Hour,Sonia could be seen gesturing to P L Punia,Congress MP from Barabanki reserved constituency. But Punia,who was trying to draw the attention of Speaker Meira Kumar,did not notice Sonia,who then tried to get HRD Minister Kapil Sibal to reach out to Punia. When even that failed,she summoned a watch and ward staff and sent him to Punia,who rushed to her.
Following some quick instructions from Sonia,Punia took the floor after Kumar and effectively put forth the cause of the weaker sections. After his speech,Sonia turned towards Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Pawan Kumar Bansal and gestured to him to intervene. Bansal dutifully told the House that the government was in agreement with the members and a response was being worked out.
When the members raised questions on train tickets being sold by touts,Railways Minister Mukul Roy and Minister of State for Railways K H Muniyappa did not have an appropriate response. But Muniyappa still scored some points with Sonia,as he responded that it is because of Shri Rajiv Gandhi that everybody has got telephones today. A smiling Sonia thumped her desk,and lauded the minister.
During Zero Hour,when Harsimrat Kaur Badal of the Akali Dal made an unusually long intervention on the killing of six Sikhs in a US gurdwara,Sonia signalled to party member Pratap Singh Bajwa to get up. Even as Bajwa indicated that he would speak after Badal,Sonia started protesting when AIADMK member M Thambidurai,who was in the chair,failed to make the Akali member sit down.
In the meantime,Thambidurai called the name of Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj. Congress members were then in no mood to let anyone else speak. But Sonia,mindful of the parliamentary convention of giving precedence to the Leader of the Opposition,directed her party members to sit down. The treasury benches were immediately quiet.
After Swaraj,Bajwa,like Muniyappa,knew how to strike the right note. I will speak in Punjabi, he said,as Sonia smiled in appreciation. And she thumped her desk afer he finished.
For the counter-attack on the Opposition,Sonia turned towards Bansal,who,after a gesture from her,was on his feet,charging Badal with an attempt to cash in on the gurdwara deaths. This led to an uproar as the BJP and Akali members rushed to the well of the House,after which the Lok Sabha was adjourned.